Election strategies for the two bloc for the Istanbul poll rerun
“If the Justice and Development Party loses the rerun of the Istanbul elections, it will be like a slap on its face. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would not have favored a rerun unless he was sure of an electoral victory,” a Western diplomat told me last week.
This is exactly the view the governing coalition wants to spread to discourage the supporters of the opposition candidate.
It is also a view shared by some who voted for Ekrem İmamoğlu, the opposition’s candidate, even though they did not think he stood a chance. They are now convinced that he won against all odds and that his election victory was taken away through an illegitimate decision.
“İmamoğlu will not be allowed to win again,” they believe. This is exactly the view that the opposition bloc led by Republican People’s Party (CHP) will be fighting for in the next days to come, insisting that winning against all odds is possible — one more time.
With around 40 days left to the June 23 rerun, the two blocs are busy shaping their strategies.
According to prominent pollster Bekir Ağırdır, of every 100 voters, 16.1 did not go to the ballot box, three cast invalid votes, and 2.2 voted for candidates other than İmamoğlu or his main rival, Binali Yıldırım.
Erdoğan will focus on those who have not voted, the bulk of whom are believed to be made up of ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) supporters. Even though it failed to deliver last time, the AK Party has one of the best local organizational structures this country has ever seen. Their local organization knows which floor in a building is occupied by AK Party supporters and which by opposition supporters. The AK Party’s Istanbul machine will go after those who have not voted and convince them to go to the ballot box.
But what will they say to convince? Although Erdoğan started a motto “everything will be even better,” changing İmamoğlu’s “everything will be just fine,” slogan, his strategy will be based on fueling fears. In view of the condition of the Turkish economy, there is not much left in the hands of the AK Party to convince their supporters that they will be better off after elections. On the contrary, AK Party supporters will be told “you will be worse off” if the CHP were to come to power, implying that the chain of official-unofficial support provided to them will be interrupted.
In addition, Erdoğan will resort again to the “polarization” weapon and in fact will use the euphoric sense of victory on the opposition camp to give the message that “if the CHP mentality is back, conservative and pious segments of society will be treated as second-class citizens.”
In the meantime, intimidating opposition supporters will continue, like cancelling the activities of artists that have openly shown support to İmamoğlu. The AK Party’s machine will also step up its efforts to have potential supporters of the coalition alliance to be named as ballot box officials. It is important to take note that the head of the Istanbul provincial election council has just asked for her retirement and has been immediately replaced by someone else.
Even though the governing alliance will use every state means in their possession, it will not be that easy to convince disappointed voters.
Some of them are not convinced that İmamoğlu’s victory came as a result of fraud and the opposition bloc’s candidate will certainly play the victim. He has seen the positive result of using a non-confrontational rhetoric.
It is precisely at that point that the governing bloc expects the opposition to make a mistake. During the 2018 presidential elections, the last two rallies in the Aegean province of İzmir and İstanbul by Muharrem İnce, the opposition candidate, were seen as big show of force by hesitant AKP supporters, who one more time choose to consolidate behind rather than break away from Erdoğan.
That’s why the opposition bloc has abstained from holding big crowded rallies and will continue with that tactic.
The governing bloc trusts some CHP figures if not İmamoğlu or Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the party head, to make a wrong move. That’s why the strategy of the opposition bloc will be to keep only İmamoğlu in the forefront, and he has been continuously asking his supporters to embrace peaceful rhetoric.
The opposition bloc will try to counterbalance the hesitant AK Party electorate who might decide to vote this time by luring the voters of the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), whose candidates decided not to run. Their candidates — the former having got more than 30,000 and the latter more than 10,000 votes — have withdrawn their candidacies.
Saadet Party, whose head is highly critical of Erdoğan, will go ahead with its candidate who got 103,000 votes. Party officials seem to prefer İmamoğlu to win but theirs reflect a tactical decision, because if their candidate does not run, at least half of their voters could go towards the AK Party.
In the meantime, the CHP and İYİ Party’s provincial organizations will be mobilized to counter efforts for any illegal/illegitimate changes in voters’ list and ballot box official delegations and to secure the principle of “secret vote open counting” is not eroded on election day.